Up until last week it was still quite cold, but finally the weather has improved and at last we are getting proper warm spring weather. It’s that special time of year, the height of the great spring dandelion blooming. Dandelions support the vast majority of pollen-feeding and pollinating insects to a degree impossible to any other spring flowers. It’s great to see these important plants are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve:
They are beautiful flowers too, and give us a bright yellow landscape. Other flowers are starting to reach their full bloom too – here, for example, are Bluebells, the true wild bluebell which is quite common in Wicklow and possesses a beautiful scent, unlike the similar-looking Spanish Bluebell:
That butterfly is a Peacock (Inachis io) and it soon gave up the bluebells to feed on dandelions again.
This is also the time when the cherry trees are candyfloss pink from blossom, and they really do brighten the place up a good bit:
However, as beautiful as it is, it’s also important to remember spring is a time of high drama. At the moment you have a good chance of seeing the rare Tawny Mining Bee, which I mentioned in the last post. The male bees have now passed on, and the females are pregnant and busily constructing their nests, which are burrows. The mouth of each burrow is surrounded by a mound of soil, sometimes quite a lot. Tawny Mining Bees are parasitised by Cuckoo Bees, such as Nomada panzeri. They lay their eggs in the nests of the Tawny Mining Bees, and their young feed on the larvae of the mining bees. Here is a Cuckoo Bee, in the foreground, watching for an opportunity to get into the nest of a Tawny Mining Bee, but the owner is watching from the entrance:
As I tried to get a closer photo I accidentally scared the Cuckoo Bee off, and the Tawny Mining Bee decided it was safe to emerge:
These bees are usually gone by May, so now is the time to look for them. Next year’s generation will soon be hidden underground awaiting their time to fly in the sunshine.
Of all of our months, April brings with it the most spectacular changes to the Wicklow landscape, so I’ve decided to showcase the changes so nobody can be in any doubt. This April was very sunny, dry and warm with very few ‘April showers’, until these last few days. Firstly, in the towns, villages and gardens, we had the cherry trees blossoming.
Now, under cold breezes and rain of the last few days these blossoms are beginning to fall like snow flakes. However, some are only now starting to blossom properly. However, while the streets were and are lined with these beautiful trees the surrounding Wicklow hills steadily turned bright yellow as the jungles of Furze bushes also blossomed. Their flowers filled the mountain air with the scent of vanilla. They will continue to blossom for some time, and have another less-spectacular blossoming in the summer.
Meanwhile, along the laneways and roadways of the Wicklow countryside the fleshy Alexanders have grown tall and putting a subtle fragrance on the spring air which can only be found in springtime. These plants die off in June and should be treated with respect as they are so vital to pollinating insects so early in the year.
These plants grow on the roadside verges in front of the hedges, but in the hedges the wild Blackthorn trees have their white blossoms right now. They don’t really have a scent, but the blossoms are associated with ancient pagan fertility rites, and in recent times girls making their first Holy Communions would wear little tiaras of blackthorn blossom on their heads. The blossoms are very tough compared to cherry blossoms and don’t break easily.
Behind the hedgerows, in the fields, you have a good chance of seeing the great spring blooming of dandelions. These much-maligned wildflowers (not ‘weeds’) consitute entire eco-systems in their own right, and they are also edible and considered extremely good for cleansing the liver of impurities, which is why they should be eaten in moderation. They are the favourite flowers of many bee species, particularly the tiny Nomada cuckoo bees.
And then in the gardens the orchard trees are also blossoming. The Pear trees went first, as usual, and most have already lost the blossoms, which have been shorn from the trees by rain and dispersed by wind. But this is what they looked like at their height only just over a week ago –
Finally, in many of the older gardens and escaped into nearby hedgerows, you will find dense shrubs of Flowering Currant. Every spring they turn red due to their scented hanging blossoms. These flowers are loved by almost all species of bee and hoverfly, not to mention human beings.
And that’s just the blossoms and flowers making their presence felt in April. May will bring with it a whole area of blossoming trees and wild flowers . Every tree and flower has its moment in Wicklow.
Now it’s high spring, so the countryside is a blaze of colour. There’s something a little sad about it too, because the blossoms on the trees last only a few days. But the flowers on the ground will continue to bloom for most of the summer, whith few exceptions. Anyhow, here are some of the beauties:
Although I found a few cherries blooming in January (big mistake!) most are only blooming now, or coming out of bloom, and the occasional breezes of May have carpeted footpaths and lawns in the pink of their blossoms. Cherries are fantastic trees, and they can be found throughout Wicklow. Most are cultivated but there are wild ones too.
Closer to ground level the combination of sun and rain has caused an explosion of wildflower blooms. The hyper-sanitised gardening which developed in the 1950s and has continued more or less unchanged until modern times treats Dandelions and Daisies as enemies to be destroyed, yet these beautiful little flowers are the very bedrock of the Wicklow ecosystem, as they once were in most of Europe. They support millions of pollinating insects on which the human race depends for its very survival. Ironically, Dandelions are not only edible, but in many countries, such as France, they are served in the best restaurants as food.
Some flowers which can be found thriving in Wicklow are currently considered endangered species in many other parts of Europe. While not exactly a common sight, a sharp pair of eyes will find Cowslips along the hedgerows and borders of damp meadows. Bees love them.